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Thursday, December 22, 2011

First Car

First Car

My boyfriend's
Toyota Corolla
Is an old rocking chair,
Formfitting from daily use;
Even mildewed felt a comforting scent.

My boyfriend's Toyota Corolla
Is a jury stand.
Fake leather pressed against a palm.
Anyone can put their hand on a bible
And cross fingers behind a back.

My ex boyfriend's Toyota Corolla
Is a sinking ship.
Salty water seizing up joints;
Stay afloat or say goodbye.

My ex
Boyfriend's Toyota Corolla
Is a forgotten toy on an airplane,
Quickly and simply replaced
By an updated product.



A shifting, single bow dances across;
The fading light is draped along the floor
Fairy pink shoes, thrust in the air, are locked
The scent of sweat leaks out from every pore.

The hardwood floor cries out from the footprints.
Bows wrapped around clear throats bow and flip with
Practice. They are not girls but ghostly glints,
The sort one hears in hushed stories and myths.

The flimsy tulle and silk flash like spider patterns,
Casting mystic shadows upon each web.
Their curls fall out from crafted spins and turns
But they don't pause to try to touch their head.

But what one cannot see is they can't move
The windows hold this image they can't lose.

Sugar Pills

Sugar Pills

We are sliced up along the patio,
Acrid smoke from green substance
Twisting tendrils in her hair.
She looks to me with candid eyes -
As if I don't know Mary Jane
But I kiss her forehead
Still tasting baby's breath of bewilderment.

She reaches for my hand and pulls me in.
I rise, actor in scene.
The sea of lawn, we spin in the surf,
Our feet damp as if we had waded in shallow
Shores. She torpedos us to the ground --
What is family for anyways?

To pull and push and fall down;
To hold and help one another;
But I cannot
Help her.
I am not the pills in her translucent throat
Or the happiness she is forced to feel
From the prescription sugar pills.

I am a mother's sister's daughter
Am I allowed to wonder whether with
All these substances
Has only now
She become substance free.

I study her doll body
Mixed in waves of emerald seas,
The drugs combined
She has resigned.
Not just now but all the time.

I pull her up and off the ground,
qShut the shades and lay her down.
My hand runs through her hair, unwound.
I float away and dim the light,
I hear a tremor of goodnight.


Rocking Horse

Leather, cool and cracked.
It is not the first, but the last;
Time has escaped us once again.

Saddle resting upon her back,
44 inches of courage that I lack.
Fasten, tighten, pull.

Frosted plastic in my hand;
Her mouth – wrinkles like valleys span,
Crafted to a face, shaped around an eye.

Dust escapes before boots and hooves,
Foot in stirrup, in walk, in trot she moves -
One, two, one two, one two

In placid eyes tears roll back and forth
On my flawless rocking horse;
Canter – one two three one two three

To dismount is to give up, to fail;
Instead sweet sweat and dust with each inhale.
But we cannot be one forever

One two three four one two three four,
I dream of her steps six years before.
But now she moves away, not towards.

I have grown too big to even try
To mount once more to say goodbye
Silly that over this plastic that I cry?

A Story

A Story
           “And the footsteps behind me, they are like BAM BAM BAM!” Louis practically jumped out of his chair on the last three syllables, shouting with his voice and his hands.
          “I am flying... we are flying,” he paused to look at me, “and we are gone. Forever and ever.” He was such a story teller, full of exaggeration and sound. I had to be the quiet one, the prop. Sometimes it felt like I hadn't really been there. Hadn't been running, hadn't been holding Louis's hand.
         The people who had gathered around us were beginning to disperse; the entertainment over. I watched them walk away, the strange assortment of characters who thought our escape was interesting. A business woman with the bulky briefcase, the pair of homeless men, a few other random passing individuals. After hearing the story twenty to twenty five times now, I couldn't fathom why people thought it was interesting.
         A few hours later Louis and I were lying on the marble floor of the Lincoln Memorial. “Why, Louis? Why do people think two stupid kids running away from home are so interesting?” He was silent for a moment, counting the bills and change we had received today from his talking mouth and hands.
“Carlin, everyone is looking for an escape.”
* * *
         Now don't misunderstand us. We aren't those two whiny kids stuck in North Dakota who think they're pretty cool for getting out. Well. I think secretly Louis did. But I felt pretty stupid sometimes; two 17 year olds, no high school degree, no plans, sleeping and getting kicked off the monuments every night. In reality, I think I pretty much misunderstood myself back in North Dakota. Cannon Ball had always seemed alright to me. I got along with my family and had a good group of friends. Like every other person who lived there, I was fabulously mediocre. I was an average student, I played averagely well on the school field hockey team, and I dated a few mediocre boys on average for about six months.
         I just want to say now, I don't love Louis like that. I've known Louis Corey since the 2nd grade when I made him cry. I told him that people who had two first names were ugly and fat, and that he was a girl. Of course I didn't understand that people could have last names that sounded like first names at that point. My best friend's name had also been Cory, so I may have actually thought he was a girl. In any case, I was forced to stay after school to apologize to himt. We had been best friends ever since.
So don't think that would be the reason I left North Dakota; to follow my true love. It's funny because at the time I was the one who brought up the whole escape plan. For once, Louis was going to follow my lead and not the other way around. Maybe that's why I went through with it; because I got to to be the leader. But for the record this was my plan.
         It had really started when I got rejected from University of Michigan. The worst part was I knew I was going to get rejected. I was average. My essay was below average. Louis had offered to write my essay for me, but my pride had declined. I probably could have gotten in if I had accepted. Louis just had this way with words, twisting them inside of each other and manipulating their sounds and meanings and truths. He got into Michigan and was all ready to go.
         I had resigned myself to the fate that I would stay at home and Louis and Cory, who was still my best friend, would go off to school. I could visit them every now and then. But then my dad got arrested.
My momma had been dead for 11 years I didn't remember her. I loved my Daddy, and he loved me and beer. He rarely talked about Momma, and when he did it was usually a comparison to me.
         “You're Momma loved to wear pearls, didn't matter all her pearls were fake,” he'd say as I fingered the plastic pearls around my neck.
         “You look so good in pearls.”
         He was all I had and I loved him more than anything, which is why his arrest shook my world. It was just one regular Friday night; like every time before at 9:00 he would leave for Pat's Bar. It had been a hard week for him. He did something concerning mail routes, I wasn't really sure what it was. But considering there were less than a thousand people in Cannon Ball, I never thought it would be that hard for him. However that week, something about unions or what not had really gotten him down. He had headed over to Pat's. Two hours later I got the phone call.
         “Carlin, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.” The static muffled his voice but I could tell he was crying.
         “Daddy, what's wrong?”
         “Carlin... I'm locked up. They've got me locked up.”
         In the back round I heard a serious voice say “30 seconds, sir.”
         “I'll be home soon, Carl. I'll be there soon. I love you.” I could fully hear the tears now.
         “I love you, Daddy!” The line went dead.
         He had gone to Pat's, had a few beers. A couple buddies came in. Then a woman came into Pat's that no one recognized. She started talking it up with the bartender, who introduced her to Daddy and the regulars. They all had a few drinks, my Daddy offering to pay for hers. Then a few more drinks later and Daddy made his move. She was not okay with that, and the bartender asked him to leave. I heard bits and pieces of this from a few people. Some from my Daddy, some from his friend Randy, the rest at the hearing. Daddy left, then came back and tried again. The woman called the police. He got fucked, Randy said. They got him with sexual harassment, trespassing, assault and battery concerning a police officer. Five years in prison; even if his friends tried to protect him, it was a lady's word against a group of drunk men. I chose to think the best of my daddy but I knew how he could be after a few drinks. Daddy cried when they walked him away; I cried when I moved in with Cory.
         Cory is and always will be my best friend. When we were young we would just go sit out in the fields every night just hanging out the two of us; sometimes Louis would come but he didn't understand our humor. When we got older a whole group of us would drink beer in the tailgates of our trucks. But a lot of anything can be too much.
         She liked to make me laugh, but sometimes I just didn't want to. She had a whole family, she had a college future, I had nothing really. Her parents were very nice, and they gave us our freedom. But their happiness choked me; I could never fit into the fourth chair at dinner the way we all wanted me to. I couldn't be the fourth vote on what movie we would watch on Sunday afternoons. Instead I found myself spending more and more time with Louis, talking about the future. Every Friday night into Saturday morning we would lie in the bed of his truck; he would talk about University of Michigan and I would talk about escape. I didn't know where I wanted to go yet but I wanted to go. I loved Cannon Ball, I loved Cory and her parents, but I didn't love the empty future I had in store.
         It was March 17 when Louis followed me. I won't ever forget it.
         “I'm going to Washington D.C. In two weeks,” I said into the night.
         I could feel his eyes on me, silently judging the falter in my voice.
         “I'm going with you,” he responded, his tone set and determined.
         “Louis, you're going to University of Michigan, remember?”
         “Nah, I can do that anytime. You only get an escape once in your life.”
         “Two weeks.”
* * *
         “You should have seen their faces. Carlin here didn't want to see their reaction to her note but I knew she needed it. Their jaws just about hit the floor; Cory's face was red as a tomato. I looked right at Carlin and said 'Run!' That's when the running started. We ran from Cannon Ball all the way to the bus station that night. Pooled our money to get to Bismarck, then on to Minot. Took the train from Minot to Chicago, then straight on to the capital of the United States. Between the two of us we had 684 dollars when we left Cannon Ball. 563 dollars later and we were in Washington D.C. Just like you see us now.”
* * *
         Of course it hadn't been that simple. The run/walk from Cory's house in our little Cannon Ball to the bus station ten miles away felt like the longest trip of my life, longer than both the trains it took to get to where we were. It had been just cold enough that it felt like my limbs were fused together, but I was still sweating. We really only ran five miles, and we really only got that far because of the adrenaline. But even when we were walking, my whole body felt sweaty and clammy. I questioned myself the whole way there; that's really the only reason I ended up holding Louis's hand. He was so sure, and I never was.
         The bus ride was absolute silence; Louis slept and I looked out the window. North Dakota fulfilled every stereotype there was about it. But I got to watch outside and see the sunrise; not many people know, but North Dakota has the most interesting sunrises. They aren't particularly beautiful or colorful, but they seem kind of otherworldly. It seemed like a suitable setting for our departure. To me, our escape was just as ethereal as the sun setting over the landscape. This wasn't Carlin running away on the planet Earth; this was an alien Carlin running away in an alternate universe.
         The train rides had both of us sleeping until we got to Chicago. Louis wanted to leave and explore, but we didn't have enough to change our tickets. Instead we walked outside, breathed in the Windy City, then got back on the train.
         The train rides flew us back into our past years, the carefree way we could spend time together. There were two things I loved – well liked – about Louis. One, he always had something to say that could either make me laugh or blow my mind. Two, if he didn't, he gave the appearance that he did. Like I said before, his hands were always playing along in the story, flashing in the air like minnows in the creek, but it wasn't just that. Big blue eyes would sparkle, dimples would dance on his face, smile wrinkles already well developed around his eyes. Not to sound cliché, but everything about Louis was infectious. And I really needed that after my mom, after Michigan, and especially now after everything.
For instance, at this moment Louis was listing off the facts he had picked up about Chicago. They weren't particularly interesting or funny, but for each thing he said, his hands had an anecdote and his eyes sent electricity across the train car. Even people who had no association to us, weren't even close to our seats, would look up to listen.
         “Did you know the first televised presidential debate was in Chicago? Between Kennedy and Nixon. People say the debates were the reason Kennedy won.
         “The elevators in the Willis building, previously known as the Sears building, are the fastest moving elevators in the world.” His hands flew up, then when they came down they landed on top of mine.
         At this point of the ride we knew we needed to start formulating a plan. We wanted to work, but what place would take refugees? To the average eye, we were just two uneducated kids from the middle of nowhere. We decided to get jobs in restaurants; work by night and live by day.
         “Why Washington DC?” Louis asked as we raced through the mid-atlantic landscape.
         “It sounded good to me. It sounds...”
         The first night was inevitably not as powerful as we had expected. The streets emptied at 12 and we were left alone with the true, hardened street sleepers. Whether it was an overreaction to paranoia or a logical action, we spent most of the night walking quickly between 24/7 fast food restaurants and convenience stores. With each ringing of a bell with our departure, my heart would race as we glanced all around us in fear of our surroundings during each walk to a new haven. Whether it was because of our evasive maneuvers or pure luck, only a few people approached us and we escaped each situation by following the scent of frying oil or gasoline.
         We eventually began to manage our homelessness. Of course flipping burgers and sleeping in the subway wasn't all that we had hoped for. Within a month I had permanent red stripes on my back from the constant nights of sleeping on benches. Sleep was rare anyways; we weren't the only inhabiters of the underground and most of our companions weren't as stable as I assumed us to be.
         But as the weeks went by I really started to wonder if maybe we were crazy for being here. But each time I was about to crack, there was Louis.
         On the nights when another homeless person would randomly burst into song, Louis would quietly hum lullabies into my ear. On the days when he would return to me reeking of fried food and fake meat, he would pull me into a mall and go to Bath and Body Works. We would spend the next half an hour spraying ourselves with perfume until we smelled sweetly disgusting and the manager kicked us out. In those moments, I would completely believe that it was all worth it.
* * *
         “When we first got here, we tried to keep to the train plans. Carlin and I both looked around, applied to a few places. Yeah, we were homeless. Still are to be honest. But we really did put in a good effort. But they'd all come to the same end. 'Where do you live?' Nowhere. For a little while I got a job in the McDonald's, but I couldn't do it. Couldn't take the smell or the people or the hours. But even at our lowest, we were free. We went to all the museums, all the monuments, walked everywhere. It was one night that we made our beds on a sidewalk near the Washington Monument. A few other people were doing the same. I apologized to Carlin in advance; she knew what was coming. As soon as they were in hearing distance I started talking. At first only one guy was listening, nodding his head. Then his buddies came over and started nodding their heads too. A few interjected, they had their own stories. But they were finally hushed by the time Carlin was watching the sunrise out the bus window.
         A few normal citizens were walking by, and a few of those stopped too. By the time Carlin and I had arrived in DC and I had flipped my burgers, there were probably ten people nodding away. When I had finished, the homeless guys padded away. But one of the others passed Carlin a ten dollar bill. Then another gave us a few bucks.
         Now, don't think I'm coercing any of you kind listeners to donate to our silly cause. We've been here for five months now and we're realizing there isn't that much waiting for us here. Carlin is all set to reapply to Michigan; Cory's parents are waiting for her at home. I've got a scholarship waiting for me there too. Besides, this really isn't even my story to tell. It's all Carlin. But we love it here, we really do. We love the long, endless days and I really do love talking to everyone. I love the ethereal nights next to the Korean soldiers. But more than that I love the nights when we are really living the runaway dream. The nights we lie right next to the Washington Monument, our heads resting against it. And our favorite security guard will come around the corner, he always knows we're there, and he'll start running. And in .5 seconds Carlin and I are up and we're running across the freaking Mall of Washington D.C., at three in the morning, underneath the moon and over it too, if we look to Reflecting Pool.”
         “And the footsteps behind me, they are like BAM BAM BAM!” Louis practically jumped out of his chair on the last three syllables, shouting with his voice and his hands.
         “I am flying... we are flying,” he paused to look at me, “and we are gone. Forever and ever.”
* * *
         The morning is all around us when we wake up, sparkling off the marble and the pool and the dew on the grass. We get up just early enough to beat the tourists, but there are already the locals who come to eat breakfast at the feet of the Gettysburg Address. Some of them know us, but none of them acknowledge our presence.
         “Ready for the day, sunshine?” Louis says, grinning. I just nod.
         We sit there for a moment. I think of my father. I think of how I truly have no home, no people. I haven't talked to Daddy since I made our escape but I still could hear his voice through the static.
         “Ready to go home, Carlin.”
         I take a deep breath in, and I nod. Louis takes something out of his pocket. 500 dollars.
         “I saved everything from those stories.”
         He takes my hand in his and pulls me up. We descend the shining, marble steps, hand in hand.
         I'm telling you, I'm really not in love with Louis Corey.

The Towne Tavern

The Towne Tavern
        I grabbed Katie's hand as we headed into the Towne Tavern. The immense, wooden door swung open slowly, as if we were being introduced to the room. The bar was full of a variety of characters, the dimmed lighting softening each face's features. We grinned at each other before sauntering up to the bar. I tucked my skirt underneath as we sat down on the the tall chairs, towering over the wax sheen of the counter, over the beer stains, over 21 years of age. The worn, vintage green of the stool clashed against my yellow dress, but I couldn't mind. I flashed my hand out, already a pro. The middle aged bartender glanced over, then did a double take. “We look good.” Katie laughed into my ear. I knew we did. Tonight was my night.
          He finally came over and I flashed my card-me-please smile. “What can I get you girls?” He asked, leaning over the mahogany bar.
         “Just a gin and tonic, please.” Katie answered.
         “A margarita.” I let the word slip out out of my mouth like a line in a play. And the bartender knew exactly what his part was.
         “Can I see your ladies' I.D.s?”
         I took my time slipping my hand into my purse, searching for my wallet, then pulling it into view. I let my french manicured fingers play with the zipper and reveal my I.D. I handed it over. He had already check Katie's. She had been 21 for almost two months now. The process had lost its glam. But I relished the fact that I didn't have to stress if a fake would work, or rely only on pre-gaming to go out.
      “Happy birthday.” The bartender said as he passed it back to me.
      “Thank you very much.” I responded.
      After we got our drinks, Katie proposed a toast. “To the nights we don't remember, with the people we'll never forget. Legally!” I laughed, then sipped on my drink. First there was the slight nip of lime, then the full bite of tequila. My throat felt a current of warmth race down to my stomach; I sighed with mature delight in the drink. I looked over at Katie; she had already finished her drink.
        “Refill!” She called down the bar.
        “Take it easy, Katie.” I laughed as she started in on her second.
        “It's your birthday! I just wanna get drunk!” I kept laughing; it was going to be a good night.

         Even as I unwrapped my hand from the mug, I could feel its shape molded into my hand. I smacked the bar to get the Phil's attention. The ancient, filthy bar shook under my hand but Phil didn't even glance over. He was too wrapped up with two girls down the bar to be concerned with a regular like me. The girls didn't look like they could be day over 21. I overheard him say “Happy birthday.” How did I know.
         The truth was I always knew. I had seen all types come through the Towne Tavern. The over worked business men, the 18 year old football boys thinking they were so cool getting a beer, the beautiful woman going home with a mistake of a man. I had seen countless bartenders pass through, watched the bar change owners, tasted each beer that had gone on the tap.
          Finally Phil made his way down to me, a refill already in hand. “You got one more, Jerry. You know how I feel about trying to close and your head's in the toilet.” I grabbed the mug and ignored the comment. Phil sighed then moved back down to other customers. I took a long swig from the glass, but the Bud just tasted like water. As I left my hand go back intro proper position, curved around the glass, I heard the entrance bells ring.
            It was another Towne regular, Larry. He spotted me, curved around the end of the bar. To anyone else, I would have been invisible. But he had seen me in that pose for 15 plus years.
           “How's it going, bud?” Larry said as he slipped into the stool beside me.
           “Doing well, Larry. Doing well.” My answer was of no consequence to him; he was already honing in on Phil and the prospect of his beer.
            “How's Nancy?” I continued after Larry had gotten his Sam Adams.
            “Oh she's good, as always. Got the girls over tonight for whatever the hell 50 year old women do when they're together. How's Mary?”
             I paused, staring down into the thin layer of foam coating the bottom of my glass. I thought over the fight, the daily fight, the grab of a jacket, the drive to Towne Tavern.
            “I'm doing well, Larry. Doing well.” And I motioned to Phil for my last refill of the night.